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Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have been all over the news this week, as the NFL has come down hard on them for allegedly deflating footballs. The coverage has included lofty statements by the NFL about the integrity of the game. That concern seems to be fairly newfound.
When teams were found to be heating balls during winter games, which both warm and inflate them, the league issued whopping fines of $25,000.
It does seem that a case can be made that the Patriots ball boy, who actually a 50 something super fan, may have deflated the balls just before the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. Why he did that is unclear. It could be as simple as his wanting to be a hero, influence the game like a real player and please his idol Tom Brady. None of that is known.
While no cheating can be condoned in any activity, what we do know is that after four months of and hours of interviewing Tom Brady and others in the Patriots organization, no evidence was produced that ties Brady to any wrongdoing.
That didn stop the NFL from fining the Patriots $1 million and two draft picks. Tom Brady, despite no history of rules violations, is losing about $2 million and a lifelong reputation as a straight shooter.
There a larger issue at work in this case than what happens to Brady or the Patriots. It about how justice is meted out in America, and who gets to do it.
Let get beyond the footballs and the celebrities for a moment to give some thought to what just happened. The NFL, which is a billion dollar private corporate entity, has just served as the accuser, investigator, prosecutor, judge and executioner in this case, and nobody has asked how itcan do that.
Imagine the conversation we all be having if this case wasn about the NFL and the handsome millionaire Tom Brady, but about Wal Mart or Home Depot and a woman stocking shelves.
Let say that Wal Mart suspected the woman of stealing things, before it had any direct evidence, and recklessly caused her embarrassment and damaged her reputation. By doing so,
itopened itselfto a lawsuit and significant damages. In order to protect itself, the company appointed itsown law firm, which handles all lawsuits brought by employees, to undertake an investigation of the matter.
The investigation not surprisingly sustained the company claims, without much direct evidence, by asserting that it was probable than not that the employee stole something and that her friend, who we call Ms. Brady, likely knew about it. Wal Mart fired the employee and her friend, a salivating press rushed to report the findings, as though they actually the work of an independent reviewer. The had no day in court. No rules of procedure. No independent judge. And no jury of their peers to turn to.
If that had actually happened, the country would be shocked and personal injury attorneys would be trampling each other to take the case against Wal Mart.
But the NFL is somehow immune from the normal and accepted rules of justice. While ithas pretended to be a neutral arbiter in this case, nothing could be more ridiculous. The league and its brand are worth many billions of dollars. Any activity that might diminish the value of that brand is of direct financial interest to the league.
It worth remembering that early in this case the league leaked a series of rumors about the Patriots and Brady that it could not prove and that weren accurate. By doing that, the league opened itselfto legal action from the Patriots and Brady, and it knew it.
Everything the league has done since has been to protect itself against that action, including naming its own law firm to the situation and present an report that looks surprisingly like a legal brief against claimants. The best defense, as they say, is a good offense.
The NFL is not and cannot be a neutral party in cases like this. Itcannot with a straight face appoint investigators who work for it. And itcertainly cannot both protect itselfand be a fair judge of others.
The NFL is acting in a way that no other company or organization in the country would be allowed to act. The press has helped. And too many others have been doing exactly what the NFL wants us to do, which is to focus on the ball.
Alan Caron is a partner in the strategic consulting firm of Caron and Egan. He can be contacted at:There is a collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners in which the players give the league wide latitude to police misdoings. This is where your Wal Mart analogy is flawed. Brady has appealed the decision by the league; he retains his right to challenge the decision in court. Clearly the lockerroom attendants did not deflate the balls without guidance from somebody. If not Brady, whom? Brady made clear his preference for under inflated balls and he was regularly paying off the attendants with jerseys and shoes which were quite valuable for re sale. Brady refused to allow his attorney to provide the NFL with any pertinent text messages or emails from his phone to the perpetrators. The NFL investigator did not ask for the phone, he agreed he would trust Brady lawyer to examine the data and to forward any relevant text messages or email. Why would Brady not agree to this? Finally, your raising of the issue of heating up the footballs is hardly analogous to this incident of an organization which was previously caught cheating and how has apparently done it again.